November 2017

Manchester Science Festival

In October the Ensemble team joined with others from JBA Trust, the Environment Agency, the Cuidar project and HighWire Centre for Doctoral Training to deliver a series of installations at the Manchester Science Festival (MSF17).

The installations, which were located on the ‘Pi Platform’ in the Power Hall at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, attracted nearly 2000 visitors in a single day, the highest number of visitors to any Pi Platform event during the festival this year.

The activities addressed flooding from a variety of perspectives including flood risk, flood preparation and resilience. The work was supported through an EPSRC Bursary, which funded a summer internship for computer science student, Edward Thompson.

The individual activities are briefly described below:


JBA Augmented Reality Sandbox

The sandbox uses a Microsoft Kinect and projector to create an interactive visualisation of water flow over a landscape to promote public understanding of catchments and flood risk management options such as Natural Flood Management. This proved very popular with adults and children at the festival and was in use throughout the day. See a video of JBA’s sandbox in action here.

Flood Foresight

JBA brought Flood Foresight software to MSF17 to show live river data and local data relating to Storm Eva, which hit the River Irwell, and surrounding areas on the floods Boxing Day 2015.

Environment Agency Flood Checker

The EA resilience team advised on flood resilience measures and brought maps and software so visitors could check the flood risk to their property.

Cuidar Giant Flood Snakes & Ladders and Cuidar Flood Snakes & Ladders App

The Cuidar team, which includes researchers from Lancaster University’s Sociology Department brought a giant game of snakes and ladders that was developed to communicate findings of research about children and young people’s experiences of flooding and their recommendations for the future. The Ensemble team worked with Maggie Mort and team to develop a tablet version of the game to be used to initiate conversations about flooding and resilience.

The River Library

Claire Dean, a HighWire PhD candidate and Ensemble’s writer-in-residence created The River Library for MSF17. The library provided an activity to engage visitors in thinking, talking, and making stories about rivers and flooding, in particular colossal floods. The River Library consisted of books, which opened to reveal miniature river landscapes.

Visitors were invited to choose a handful of story dice to throw into a book. The traditional long dice had different symbols drawn on each side, representing floods, places that flood, things and people that help when there’s a flood, people and animals affected by floods, and causes of floods, including creatures from myth and folklore. Visitors were warned that choosing more dice to throw increased the chance of flooding in their story, but it could also provide them with more narrative elements to work with. Visitors made up stories using the symbols produced on their roll of the dice. The stories were then recorded using wooden library stamps carved with corresponding symbols. Visitors printed one copy of the story for themselves, which could be used to help them retell their story to family and friends, and one copy to share with others through the library.

Gradually a flood history emerged through the stories that were made, showing a pattern of frequent low-level floods interspersed with less frequent ‘colossal floods.’

Flood Resilience Home Makeover

This installation was a response to a Cuidar’s report in which children advocated raising public awareness of flood preparation and adaptation for “a NEW NORMAL”. Ensemble worked with illustrator George Williams to create a magnetic image of a kitchen with flood resilient features greyed out. Using labels around the image for guidance, visitors attached the correct flood resilient adaptations to the spaces on the kitchen image.

The Flood Box

This was another installation to encourage flood preparation, developed from information on the National Flood Forum and other flood resilience web pages.

Visitors reach into a lucky dip style box and pull out tagged object for example a power bank and wellies. Visitors sort the objects into ones they would need if flooding caused power failure and property damage, and ones that would be needed for evacuation as a result of flooding. They discarded things that are not relevant for their personal preparations. This created a personal flood kit list, printed on a receipt to take away and use for preparation.


This activity was accessible to a wide audience. Visitors were invited to write questions and share flood information on paper that they then turned into Origami boat or sea creature as part of a display. The activity enables the facilitators to direct people to individuals who might be able to answer their particular flood questions. It also created a space for conversation.



The team designed an installation to visualise the 2015 Boxing Day floods on the River Irwell, using data generated from JBA’s Flood Foresight software. The installation was developed to incorporate 120 ShapeClips, components of shape changing display developed by researchers in the School of Computing and Communication. Ultimately we only took a small incomplete demonstration to MSF17 as a work in progress. This was supplemented with contextual, historical information about flooding in the area. To learn more about ShapeClips please click here.


Author: Liz Edwards